Thursday, March 10, 2005

Show Us Your Butts!

I'm the first to admit it, because I know from first-hand experience. The performing arts is a damn hard thing to market. Fucking impossible if you're working with modern dance in Washington, DC.

You're also working to garner the attention of a public that has more entertainment choices now than ever before. You need to use all of your resources very carefully.

Because ticket sales do not usually fund performances 100%, arts organizations have turned to many venues for funding. If you're a paying member of any performing arts institution, thank you, you are part of the solution. You are helping to keep the performing arts alive and well.

However, members and independent donations do not seem to be completing many budgets. Many organizations turn to the private sector, corporations, or additional funding. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, one corporation you may see again and again in your performance programs is Altria.

Altria is simply the new corporate name for a parent company that owns and operates Philip Morris International. Altria is very generous in their funding of the arts.

[Full disclosure: I used to smoke Marlboro Lights - a brand produced by Philip Morris. I no longer smoke, but have NOT become a rabid anti-smoke campaigner. I believe in specific smokers' rights.]

Altria is a pretty name, but let's not whitewash the fact that these organizations are taking cigarette money. Altria may own Kraft as well, but the majority of their profits come from cigarette revenue. Altria is the house that the Marlboro Man built.

I would not feel comfortable taking money from Altria - even if it was used to promote the performing arts. [And you should understand, I make my living marketing the performing arts - and searching out funding.] In plainer terms: "Grandma can't breathe so well anymore, but your theatre festival is fully funded!"

From, here are some arts organizations that received money in 2003. I concentrated on DC institutions - that is where I live - but you can check the website to see if your favorite arts organization is part of the "cough-hack" club.

Arena Stage - $20,000
Corcoran Gallery of Art - $10,000
GALA Theatre - $5,000
National Museum of the American Indian - $25,000
Opera America - $25,000
The Phillips Collection - $5,000
The Shakespeare Theatre - $5,000
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts - $815,000

I know that President Kennedy liked the odd cigar, but that last one bothers me. I thought the Kennedy Center received money from the government to fund performances, but from their own website: "As a monument to President Kennedy, the U.S. government provides funding for the building's maintenance and upkeep only."

$815,000 is a drop in the bucket of the US budget. Surely we can find the money to wean the KenCen off of tobacco's teat. Even if we can't (I'll admit this isn't the most arts-friendly administration we've had.) how can the KenCen work internally to save that money - or to find alternate sources of funding? [What about a "Smoke Out at the Kennedy Center" fundraising campaign?]

It's a big change - and it's much easier for me to say it than for them to implement it - I realize that. I don't blame the Kennedy Center for taking what seems like easy money in order to produce world-class art. But we can do better.

Isn't it worth it?


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